United Palestinians have changed the course of history
The Palestinian revolt of 2021 will go down in history as one of the most influential events in irreversibly changing the collective thinking in and around Palestine. Only two other events can be compared with what has just transpired in Palestine: The revolt of 1936 and the first intifada that began in 1987.
The general strike and rebellion of 1936 to 1939 were momentous because they represented the first unmistakable expression of collective Palestinian political agency. Despite their isolation and humble tools of resistance, the Palestinian people rose up across the country to challenge both British and Zionist colonialism.
The intifada of 1987 was also historic. It was the unprecedented collective action that unified the West Bank and Gaza in response to the Israeli occupation of what remained of historic Palestine in 1967. That legendary popular revolt, though costly in terms of blood and sacrifices, allowed Palestinians to regain the political initiative and once again speak as one people.
That intifada was eventually thwarted by the signing of the Oslo I Accord in 1993. For Israel, Oslo was a gift from the Palestinian leadership that allowed it to suppress the intifada and use the then-newly invented Palestinian Authority to serve as a buffer between the Israeli military and occupied, oppressed Palestinians.
Since then, the story of Palestine has been on a dismal trajectory; one of disunity, factionalism, political rivalry and, for the privileged few, massive wealth. Nearly four decades have been wasted on a self-defeating political discourse centered on American-Israeli priorities, mostly concerned with “Israeli security” and “Palestinian terrorism.”
Old but befitting terminology such as “liberation,” “resistance” and “popular struggle” were replaced with the more “pragmatic” language of “peace process,” “negotiation table” and “shuttle diplomacy.” The Israeli occupation of Palestine, according to this misleading discourse, was depicted as a “conflict” or a “dispute,” as if basic human rights were the subject of political interpretation.
Predictably, the already-powerful Israel became more emboldened, tripling the number of its illegal colonies in the West Bank, along with the population of its illegal settlers. Palestine was segmented into tiny, isolated South Africa-style Bantustans, each carrying a code — Areas A, B and C — and the movement of Palestinians within their homeland became conditioned on them obtaining various colored permits from the Israeli military. Women forced to give birth at military checkpoints in the West Bank, cancer patients dying in Gaza while waiting for permission to cross to better-equipped hospitals and other similar scandals became the everyday reality of Palestine and the Palestinians.
With time, the Israeli occupation of Palestine became a marginal issue on the agenda of international diplomacy. Meanwhile, Israel cemented its relationship with numerous countries around the world, including some in the Southern Hemisphere that historically stood beside Palestine.
Even the international solidarity movement for Palestinian rights became confused and fragmented — a direct expression of the Palestinian political confusion and fragmentation. In the absence of a unified Palestinian voice amid the prolonged political feud, many took the liberty of lecturing Palestinians on how to resist, what “solutions” to fight for and how to conduct themselves politically.
It seemed that Israel had finally gained the upper hand — permanently.
Desperate to see Palestinians rise again, many — including intellectuals and political leaders — called for a third intifada. It was as if the flow of history in Palestine adhered to fixed academic notions or was compelled by the urging of some individual or organization.
The rational answer was, and remains, that only the Palestinian people will determine the nature, scope and direction of their collective action. Popular revolts are not the outcome of wishful thinking but of circumstances, the tipping point of which can only be decided by the people themselves.
May 2021 became such a tipping point. Palestinians rose in unison, from Jerusalem to Gaza and every inch of the Occupied Territories, as well as refugee communities throughout the Middle East. By doing so, they solved an impossible political equation. The Palestinian “problem” was no longer that of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem alone, but also the Israeli racism and apartheid that have targeted the Palestinian communities inside Israel. Further, it was also the crisis of leadership and the deep-seated factionalism and political corruption.
Palestinians won because, once more, they emerged from the rubble of Israeli bombs as a whole — a nation determined to win its freedom whatever the cost.
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided on May 8 to unleash hordes of police and Jewish extremists on Palestinian worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque, who were protesting the ethnic cleansing of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, he was merely attempting to score a few political points among Israel’s most chauvinistic right-wing constituencies. He also wanted to remain in power, or at least avoid prison as a result of his ongoing corruption trial.
He did not anticipate, however, that he was unleashing one of the most historic events in Palestine; one that would ultimately solve a seemingly impossible Palestinian quandary. True, Netanyahu’s war on Gaza killed hundreds and wounded thousands. The violence he perpetrated in the West Bank and in Arab neighborhoods in Israel killed scores. But it was the Palestinians who claimed victory, with hundreds of thousands of people rushing to the streets in the wake of the ceasefire to declare their triumph as one unified, proud nation.
Winning and losing wars of national liberation cannot be measured by gruesome comparisons between the number of dead or the degree of destruction inflicted on each side. If this was the case, no colonized nation would have ever won its freedom. Palestinians won because, once more, they emerged from the rubble of Israeli bombs as a whole — a nation determined to win its freedom whatever the cost. This realization was symbolized by the many scenes of Palestinian crowds celebrating while waving the banners of all Palestinian factions, without prejudice and without exception.
Finally, it can unequivocally be asserted that the Palestinian resistance scored a major victory, arguably unprecedented in its proud history. This is the first time that Israel has been forced to accept that the rules of the game have changed, likely forever. It is no longer the only party that determines political outcomes in occupied Palestine, because the Palestinian people are finally a force to be reckoned with.
- Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books, and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. Twitter: @RamzyBaroud